What rights do single working parents have?
If you are balancing work with raising your children alone, there are a few additional benefits that could make the juggle easier
Raising children on your own is tough; throw work into the mix and it can feel overwhelming. If this is a challenge you are currently navigating, it is important to know what rights single working parents have, so at least one side of the equation is a little bit smoother.
Working single parents have the same statutory rights as all workers. That’s the first thing to remember. This covers protections including payment that does not fall below minimum wage, a working week no longer than 48 hours, paid sick leave of at least £96.35 a week for 28 weeks, maternity pay and a written statement of employment.
There are also some aspects of employment law that apply specifically to working single parents, or rights that are particularly relevant to their situation.
Separated couples can share parental leave
The introduction of shared parental leave means that couples can split the traditional maternity leave period, which was previously only available to the parent who had given birth. Now, parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of maternity pay in the first year of the baby’s life, and parents do not have to live together to qualify. This means that parents who have separated, or those who were never in a relationship, can still share the care of an infant, allowing the mother to return to work more easily.
Time off to care for sick children
Sore tummies, teething, chicken pox, temperatures, colds… there are many reasons why a child might need to stay home from school or nursery, and every parent knows it’s impossible to plan for sick days. For single working parents, this can be very disruptive. This is why employees have the right to take emergency unpaid leave if a child is sick. You can take up to two days off to care for your child or to arrange alternative care, and your employer is not permitted to penalise you for this as long as you inform them of the situation and it is a genuine illness. This also covers you in case of a collapse in childcare arrangements, such as a sick babysitter or a nursery closure.
Support through bereavement
Sometimes becoming a single parent can be the result of bereavement. If your partner dies, you have a legal right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to grieve and to make arrangements for the funeral, as well as other practical issues such as registering the death, and to support your children as they deal with the loss of a parent. This is called compassionate leave. While you should not be penalised for taking time off in these circumstances, the length of leave is at the discretion of your employer and they are not required to pay you during your absence. If you feel you need more time off than your employer is willing to agree to or your contract allows, you could ask to use up your annual leave or take sick leave. If your child is younger than 12 months, you could also have shared parental leave to use.
Access to flexible working hours
Single parents often work around school hours or childcare timetables, and therefore sticking to a strict rota can be difficult. As long as you have been an employee of a company for 26 weeks, you have the right to request flexible working hours – such as taking a shorter lunch break so that you can leave 30 minutes earlier to make it in time for the school bell. Other requests could be to work from home, or change the hours or days you work. Though your employer is not obliged to grant your request, they can only refuse it for a statutory business reason and must give you a decision within three months of your application.
Access to catch-all unpaid leave Having a child is a huge commitment, and juggling work and childcare can be even more taxing when all the responsibility falls on you as a single parent. The situations outlined above cover some of the reasons you might need time off work to give your child a stable and secure home life, and the rights single working parents have to make this happen. However, there are so many other moments, big and small, which will arise – school plays, long summer holidays, doctor’s appointments, parents’ evenings, exams, birthdays. This is why there is a catch-all for working parents that covers not just the early years but their entire childhood, allowing you to take a total of 18 weeks’ unspecified unpaid leave before your child turns 18, as long as you have been with your employer for a year or more.